“Green Book” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” were the big winners at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards. “A Star Is Born” and “BlacKkKlansman” are the big winners in nominations from the Hollywood guilds.
So now can we make some sense of the crazy Oscar race?
No, not really. Even after the Globes and the major guilds have chimed in, this year remains a messy awards-season free-for-all, with lots of potential contenders sporting reasons why they might become Oscar favorites alongside the reasons why they might not.
It’s about as hard to figure out as who’s going to host the Oscars, although that question will probably be answered first.
As we examine the Oscar tea leaves, let’s start with the Golden Globes. I am always the first to tell you that the Globes mean nothing to the Oscars, that they don’t influence Academy voters in the slightest. But this year I think there is one significant exception to that: By winning the best-actress award over Lady Gaga, and then by giving a galvanizing speech that drew two separate standing ovations, Glenn Close went from a borderline candidate to a near-frontrunner in about five minutes. And “The Wife” just jumped to the top of a lot of screener piles in Academy homes.
But the films that won the big awards can’t ride their Globes momentum very far. “Bohemian Rhapsody” might have won the Globe as the year’s best drama, but whatever boost it got from that is more than wiped out by the backlash that immediately ensued. “Green Book” might have come out of the Globes with a marginal bump, but again, it has had to contend with naysayers since it won.
Still, you have to go back to 2009 to find a Golden Globe winner for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy that wasn’t at least nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (for the record, “The Hangover” won the Globe but wasn’t nominated for the Oscar), and all the way back to 1963 to find a Globe drama winner that didn’t get an Oscar nomination (“The Cardinal”). “BoRap” can be heartened by that last statistic, even as it puts it to the test.
The awards that provide truly useful intelligence about the leanings of Oscar voters, though, are the ones handed out by Hollywood guilds and professional societies. And if you’re looking at the Best Picture race, the most useful ones are the four major guilds: Producers Guild, Directors Guild, Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild.
Since the Oscars expanded their slate of nominees from five to 10 (and then to a variable number that in practice has always been eight or nine), 19 films have received PGA, DGA and WGA nominations along with a SAG nomination for ensemble cast — and all 19 have gone on to be nominated for Best Picture.
Two films have those four nominations this year: “A Star Is Born,” which has also run the table with nominations from the American Society of Cinematographers, American Cinema Editors, Art Directors Guild, Casting Society of America and Cinema Audio Society, and “BlacKkKlansman,” which has also fared well with the below-the-line guilds and organizations.
An additional four films have been nominated for three of the top four guild awards, which history says gives them an 86 percent chance of landing an Oscar nomination for Best Picture: “Black Panther,” which only missed the DGA; and “Green Book,” “Roma” and “Vice,” which missed SAG ensemble nods.
Movies that land two of the major guild nominations receive Best Picture nominations only about half the time, and this year’s group is “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and “A Quiet Place” — though “The Favourite,” which did receive a Producers Guild nomination, would certainly have also gotten one from the Writers Guild if it had been eligible.
Contenders with a single major guild nomination (which has led to an Oscar nom only 21 percent of the time) include “Eighth Grade,” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.” And “First Man,” “Mary Poppins Returns,” “First Reformed,” “The Rider” and “Cold War” are among the contenders that have been shut out by the major guilds — but they can take heart in the fact that since the category expanded in 2009, 10 films (slightly more than one a year) have been nominated for Best Picture without a nom from the PGA, DGA, WGA or SAG.
So the guilds (and, to a lesser degree, the Globes) suggest that the likeliest nominees are “A Star Is Born,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “Roma,” “Black Panther,” “Green Book,” “Vice,” “The Favourite” and one or two from a group that includes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “A Quiet Place,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” “If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Eighth Grade,” “First Man” and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
But who can win? That’s the year’s toughest question.
Sure, maybe “A Star Is Born” will recover from losing at the Golden Globes (the body of voters that seemed most likely to embrace it) to sweep the SAG, Producers Guild and Directors Guild Awards, all but securing its Oscar coronation.
But it’s just as possible that those awards will be spread out — maybe “Star Is Born” or “Green Book” wins the PGA, “The Favourite” wins the SAG ensemble award, “Roma” wins the DGA and the Oscar race goes into the homestretch as a virtual tossup.
Clearly, every major film in the race has significant weaknesses along with its strengths; for every reason why the presumed frontrunners might win are other reasons why they shouldn’t be able to win.
“A Star Is Born” is the de facto frontrunner, its loss at the Globes more than made up for by its strong showing with the guilds. It’s a crowd-pleasing movie that has made more than $200 million and will no doubt be loved by the Academy’s huge Actors Branch — after all, it was directed by one of them.
But it’s also the third remake of a property that’s been around since the 1930s (or the fourth, if you count the 1932 drama “What Price Hollywood?” as the genesis of the 1937 “Star Is Born”) — and virtually everybody likes its first hour much better than its second hour, which is problematic for a film hoping to take the big prize.
And if the Hollywood Foreign Press Association didn’t fully embrace it, who will?
Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” is 2018’s clear critical favorite, but it’s also a black-and-white film in a foreign language, Spanish. Since “Grand Illusion” in 1938, 10 foreign-language films have been nominated for Best Picture, but none have ever won — and voters will no doubt have the chance to reward it in the Best Foreign Language Film category, which could lessen the impetus to give it Best Picture.
Still, Cuarón is the odds-on favorite to also win Best Director and Best Cinematography, and the film feels singular and significant in a way that few others in the race do. The Academy’s international membership has expanded tremendously in the last three years, which could give it a boost. And with Netflix doing a thorough job of removing the stigma that once clung to its films in the Oscar race, it’d be foolish to dismiss it as a real contender.
Of the other main contenders, Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book” is both the biggest crowd-pleaser, winning audience awards at virtually every film festival it went to, and one of the most divisive films. As it has racked up victories, it has been hit by a criticism that it’s just another movie about race relations from the point of view of the white character, and also hurt by complaints of inaccuracy from the family of Dr. Donald Shirley, played in the film by Mahershala Ali.
But putting executive producer Octavia Spencer out front at the Globes is a strategy designed to counter the white-people-telling-a-black-story narrative, and Farrelly’s inclusion on the roster of Directors Guild nominees was a major victory for the film.
Then there’s “Black Panther,” which has the advantage of feeling like a real Hollywood landmark: the top-grossing film ever by a black director, the first comic-book movie nominated for best picture at the Golden Globes, the ninth-highest-grossing film of all time… Plus its 97 percent fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes is better than “Roma” (96 percent), “A Star Is Born” (90 percent), “Green Book” (81 percent), “The Favourite” (94 percent), “BlacKkKlansman” (95 percent) and every other top contender.
Its Oscar problem, of course, is clear: It’s a Marvel movie about a comic-book character, and no movie of that ilk has ever been nominated for Best Picture, much less won. Even in a year in which the Academy tried to introduce a new award just for popular pictures to boost the ratings for its show, that’s a huge hurdle to overcome. And so is the fact that the DGA opted not to nominate Coogler, since it’s been almost 30 years since a movie won Best Picture without a DGA nomination for its director. (That was “Driving Miss Daisy.”)
Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” by comparison, is the kind of serious film (albeit a humor-spiked serious film) that is more in the Academy’s wheelhouse — and the fact that they had to give Lee an Honorary Oscar in 2015 after overlooking him for most of his career gives him an added boost.
But while a Best Picture nomination is all but assured, as is Lee’s first-ever (!) Best Director nomination, “BlacKkKlansman” is also a divisive film, not the kind of consensus choice that the Oscars’ preferential system of vote-counting typically rewards.
And speaking of divisive, Adam McKay’s “Vice” is the very definition of that term — beloved by actors, perhaps, but disliked by many and sporting a paltry 63 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes (59 percent among top critics). That’s the lowest of any major contender unless you count “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which is 62 percent positive (and only 48 percent with top critics).
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ barbed period piece “The Favourite” might be more universally palatable — its setting in the court of England’s Queen Anne is sumptuous and stylish, making it the kind of filmmaking that will likely result in lots of below-the-line nominations. And the Actors Branch will no doubt relish the interplay between Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, who will likely all be nominated.
But the director of “Dogtooth” and “The Lobster” has a deliciously dark and nasty sensibility; he doesn’t portray human behavior as much as he mocks it. There are still members of the Academy who are mad that a (presumed) executive-committee save made “Dogtooth” a 2009 foreign-language Oscar nominee, and the Lanthimos tone may be too much even for an expanded, more wordly AMPAS membership.
The other Best Picture contenders feel less likely to seriously challenge for the top award, though it’s hard to make definitive statements in a wild, messy year. The Globes and the guild nominations might have helped narrow the field a little bit, but this is a race that is going to play out over the long haul, and one that seems likely to remain hazy well into February.
It’s 2019. Welcome to the Oscars free-for-all.